Champion rower Dick Arnst wins race on Zambezi River

18 August 1910

Dick Arnst on the Whanganui River (New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame)

Former top cyclist Dick Arnst had become world sculling champion in 1908. After two successful title defences at home, the muscular Arnst raced in a more exotic setting – on the Zambezi River.

The British South Africa Company (founded by arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes), which ruled the vast region now occupied by Zambia and Zimbabwe, sponsored his match with English champion Ernest Barry, described as ‘the most scientific oarsman in the world’. It was the purse of £1000 (equivalent to $165,000 today) that lured both men so far from home.

A sharpshooter deterred hippopotamuses from interfering in the race, which was rowed to a soundtrack of the ‘incessant roaring’ of the nearby Victoria Falls. The umpire was Spencer Gollan, the Hawke’s Bay runholder who owned the famous racehorse Moifaa. Cheered on by ‘the black population, in all their finery’, Arnst won easily.

Arnst lost his title in a return match against Barry on the Thames in 1912. He got it back when Barry retired after the First World War, but lost it to fellow New Zealander Darcy Hadfield in 1922.

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